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Factor Endowments, Inequality, and Paths of Development Among New World Economies

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  • Stanley L. Engerman

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  • Kenneth Lee Sokoloff

Abstract

Whereas traditional explanations of differences in long-run paths of development across the Americas generally point to the significance of differences in national heritage or religion, we highlight the relevance of stark contrasts in the degree of inequality in wealth, human capital, and political power in accounting for how fundamental economic institutions evolved over time. We argue, moreover, that the roots of these disparities in the extent of inequality lay in differences in the initial factor endowments (dating back to the era of European colonization). We document -- through comparative studies of suffrage, public land, and schooling policies -- systematic patterns by which societies in the Americas that began with more extreme inequality or heterogeneity in the population were more likely to develop institutional structures that greatly advantaged members of elite classes (and disadvantaging the bulk of the population) by providing them with more political influence and access to economic opportunities. The clear implication is that institutions should not be presumed to be exogenous; economists need to learn more about where they come from to understand their relation to economic development. Our findings not only contribute to our knowledge of why extreme differences in the extent of inequality across New World economies have persisted for centuries, but also to the study of processes of long-run economic growth past and present.

Suggested Citation

  • Stanley L. Engerman & Kenneth Lee Sokoloff, 2002. "Factor Endowments, Inequality, and Paths of Development Among New World Economies," ECONOMIA JOURNAL, THE LATIN AMERICAN AND CARIBBEAN ECONOMIC ASSOCIATION - LACEA, vol. 0(Fall 2002), pages 41-110, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:col:000425:008689
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Alberto Alesina & Dani Rodrik, 1994. "Distributive Politics and Economic Growth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 109(2), pages 465-490.
    2. Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson & James A. Robinson, 2001. "The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(5), pages 1369-1401, December.
    3. Allen, Robert C., 1992. "Enclosure and the Yeoman: The Agricultural Development of the South Midlands 1450-1850," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198282969.
    4. Roland Benabou, 2000. "Unequal Societies: Income Distribution and the Social Contract," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(1), pages 96-129, March.
    5. James A. Robinson & Daron Acemoglu, 2000. "Political Losers as a Barrier to Economic Development," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(2), pages 126-130, May.
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    Keywords

    economic institutions; initial factor endowments; inequality;

    JEL classification:

    • O43 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - Institutions and Growth
    • D02 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Institutions: Design, Formation, Operations, and Impact
    • E02 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - General - - - Institutions and the Macroeconomy

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